Sabah church SIB terminates bid at Federal Court for reasons behind government’s 1986 ‘Allah’ ban in Christian publications

Previously, SIB had asked the Federal Court for leave to appeal against the refusal by other courts to order for the disclosure of government documents linked to the 1986 ban. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Previously, SIB had asked the Federal Court for leave to appeal against the refusal by other courts to order for the disclosure of government documents linked to the 1986 ban. — Picture by Hari Anggara

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KUALA LUMPUR, March 25 — Sabah church Sidang Injil Borneo (SIB) has formally discontinued its bid at the Federal Court for documents to discover the reason for the Malaysian government’s 1986 move to ban the word “Allah” in Christian publications.

Previously, SIB had asked the Federal Court for leave to appeal against the refusal by other courts to order for the disclosure of government documents linked to the 1986 ban.

When contacted, lawyer Bobby Chew Chin Guan — who is representing SIB and its president Datuk Jerry Dusing — confirmed that his clients had on March 22 filed a notice of withdrawal for the leave application to the Federal Court.

Chew told Malay Mail that this was conveyed to the Federal Court during online case management yesterday. The case management was carried out before Federal Court deputy registrar Rasidah Roslee.

Previously, SIB had filed a discovery application at the High Court asking for two sets of documents, including documents such as letters and meetings minutes containing the reasons for the government’s 1986 ban of the word “Allah” in Christian publications; documents showing confusion among Malaysians or misunderstanding between Muslims and Christians over the use of the word “Allah” in Bahasa Malaysia Christian publications; or showing threats to public order due to non-Muslims’ use of the term.

The second set of documents sought was for those where the government had granted approval to import, publish, produce, distribute or own any Christian publications with the word “Allah”.

The High Court in October 2017 refused SIB’s discovery application to seek the disclosure of the documents as they were classified under the Official Secrets Act and the court felt it was not necessary for such documents to be disclosed for the Sabah church’s judicial review.

In October 2020, the Court of Appeal dismissed SIB’s appeal of the High Court ruling.

With the discontinuation of the leave application, there will no longer be a bid at the Federal Court by SIB to discover the documents.

Chew had last week told Malay Mail that the reason for the discontinuation of the discovery bid was in light of the High Court’s decision in Sarawakian Bumiputera Christian Jill Ireland Lawrence Bill’s case, and that the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) had not objected to the withdrawal of the application for leave to appeal on the documents discovery.

On March 10, SIB’s lawyers had informed the High Court of its intention to not continue with the discovery bid at the Federal Court.

This was due to the High Court’s decision on the same day (March 10) in a separate case involving Jill Ireland, a Bahasa Malaysia-speaking native of Sarawak’s Melanau tribe.

In Jill Ireland’s case, the High Court ruled that the government’s written directive via the Home Ministry’s December 5, 1986 circular was unlawful and unconstitutional, and also held that the December 1986 ban was unjustified as there was no evidence of threats to public order or evidence of confusion or misunderstanding that could lead to public disorder.

This 1986 written government directive — which banned the word “Allah” in Christian publications and which was used to justify the seizure of Jill Ireland’s eight educational compact discs meant for her personal use — was the same directive that SIB had wanted to find out more about through the courts.

About SIB’s case

SIB and Dusing had on December 10, 2007 filed for judicial review to challenge the Home Ministry’s August 15, 2007 decision to seize three boxes of Malay-language Christian educational books that were meant for Christian children.

The Home Ministry had seized the three boxes of books — that contained the word “Allah” and that were imported from Indonesia by SIB — at the international budget airport terminal in Sepang while in transit, but later returned them to Sabah church on January 25, 2008 with the condition that the front page would be stamped with a “cross” sign and the words “Christian publication”.

In the SIB judicial review, the church and Dusing are seeking a recognition of their rights — including a declaration that it is their constitutional right to use the word “Allah” in Bahasa Malaysia or Bahasa Indonesia translations of the bible and in religious materials to instruct their children in their religion, in line with the right to freedom of religion and right to education under the Federal Constitution’s Article 11 and Article 12.

The High Court had in May 2014 dismissed SIB’s application for leave to have its judicial review heard, while the Court of Appeal in October 2014 granted SIB leave for judicial review and sent the case back to the High Court to be heard.

The actual hearing of SIB’s judicial review at the High Court has not started, and had previously been put on hold while waiting for the Sabah church’s court bid for documents on the reasons for the government’s 1986 ban.

SIB’s judicial review case at the High Court will come up for case management on April 19.

The word “Allah” is Arabic for God and has been adopted into the Malay language where it has been used for generations by Malay-speaking Christians in the country, especially those living in Sabah and Sarawak.

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